When you are the Personal Representative: What to do when someone dies

~ By Carol Johnson, JD ~

You have been acting as Financial Power of Attorney (POA) for your Aunt Mabel. She has died after an illness here in Colorado. As a result of her death, your POA is no longer effective. Aunt Mabel’s will also names you as Personal Representative. So what can and should you do?

Assuming Aunt Mabel’s funeral arrangements have been made, the will has been located, and death certificates have been ordered, your primary duty is to preserve her estate and search for any relevant documents and assets. Collect mail, make sure her residence and perishable property are protected, contact her investment professionals, banks, accountant, attorney, insurance agent, social security and/or Veterans Affairs, pension providers, utility companies and the post office to advise and make the appropriate arrangements.

Estate or probate assets under your control as Personal Representative (PR) are assets in Aunt Mabel’s name alone or as a co-tenant with others. Assets held in joint tenancy or life insurance or other assets with a named beneficiary are not considered probate assets administered through the court although the PR may and often does facilitate the distribution of these kinds of assets to the beneficiaries.

Lodge the will with the probate court in the county where Aunt Mabel lived within 10 days of her death and file the necessary probate applications to be named Personal Representative no earlier than 120 hours or 5 days after her death. Generally, your duties are to act impartially toward all parties and to administer the estate with care. Your responsibilities include collecting, inventorying and managing the assets; paying the bills including taxes; making the distributions to the beneficiaries; and closing the estate typically after 6 months in Colorado.

Upon being named PR, you will be issued “letters” from the court which evidence your authority to act. Within 30 days of your appointment, you prepare and send a Notice of Appointment with a copy of the will to the beneficiaries, creditors and family members and file proof with the court that it was sent. It is important to set up an estate accounting system immediately as you will be accountable to the creditors, the beneficiaries, the court and the tax authorities. Publish a Notice to Creditors in the paper for unknown creditors to be notified of Aunt Mabel’s death and begin paying all bills. Within 3 months of her death, prepare and distribute an Inventory of the estate’s assets.

As you begin to liquidate and distribute the estate, you will use your “letters” to make these transfers. Make distributions to the beneficiaries as soon as it can be done safely. Finally, you are required to file closing statements with the court and financial accountings to the beneficiaries.

While you may have heard horror stories from other states, probate in Colorado is relatively simple, inexpensive and resolved quickly. As PR, you may choose to work closely with an attorney or handle the administration with only periodic legal advice. In either case, you are entitled to be paid for your services. If you choose to be paid, keep track of the tasks you perform, your time spent and any out-of-pocket expenses you incur.

If a trusted family member or friend is not an option for you to name as your Personal Representative, or you find that a bank trust department or law firm is just too expensive, you may choose to name a professional fiduciary as your PR.

Carol Johnson JD is an experienced Colorado estate administration attorney and former probate paralegal using these skills and knowledge in a professional fiduciary services’ business focusing on trust and estate administration as a Personal Representative or Trustee. She can be reached at Carol-530@comcast.net or 303-474-4235

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